Death-penalty decision called political

November 02, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

A former Navy seaman's lawyers have charged in pretrial motions that State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee is seeking the death penalty against their client because of election-year pressures.

Darris Ware, 23, of no fixed address, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 30, 1993, slayings of his fiancee, Betina Gentry, 18, and her neighbor, Cynthia Vega-Allen, 22. They were found shot to death in Ms. Gentry's Severn home.

Prosecutors told Mr. Ware on March 22 that they would seek the death penalty.

In a motion filed Monday, Mark Blumberg and Robert H. Waldman, the assistant public defenders on the case, asked Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth to strike the death penalty notice. They claimed Mr. Weathersbee was motivated by political aims, not by justice.

According to the motion, Mr. Weathersbee's decision was "in response to heated election rhetoric accusing the incumbent state's attorney of being soft on crime." John R. Greiber, the Republican challenger, has accused Mr. Weathersbee of being "soft on crime" and reluctant to seek the death penalty, the lawyers said in their motion. The 17-page motion is slated to be argued in pretrial hearings Nov. 14 and 15. Jury selection is set to begin Jan. 9.

Mr. Weathersbee, a Democrat, yesterday denied that politics influenced his decision. He said Mr. Ware's case met the criteria for capital punishment because it involved two slayings.

Mr. Greiber said yesterday that Mr. Weathersbee's decisions to seek the death penalty against Mr. Ware, Scotland E. Williams, ++ 31, of Arnold, and Alvin W. Gross, 20, of Shady Side, are indications of "blatant, election-year politics by an incumbent who's been in office too long." Trials for Mr. Williams and Mr. Gross are pending.

Mr. Weathersbee, who has been state's attorney since 1988, said he has sought the death penalty on three previous occasions. In Mr. Ware's case, he said he gave considerable weight to the victims' relatives. "We did everything in this case that we normally do," he said. "We talked to the victims' families, we talked to the police and we considered all the facts."

Mr. Waldman, one of the defense attorneys, yesterday said Mr. Weathersbee's policy on the death penalty, stated at various campaign forums, is to consider the wishes of the victim's family and the defendant's previous criminal record.

Mr. Waldman said his client's only prior criminal conviction was for carrying a telephone pager at a high school football game. If Mr. Ware is convicted of the killings, the facts will show the slayings were "a crime of passion," not the acts of a cold-blooded killer who should be executed, he said.

Under state law, a state's attorney can seek the death penalty if the crime involves an aggravating circumstance, such as multiple murders, the death of a police officer, or if the crime occurs during a kidnapping or rape.

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